ALBANY — Monroe knew it had its hands full with defending state champion Tift County coming into town.
The Tornadoes fought hard but in the end, Tift County took a 57-53 victory over Monroe in front of a capacity crowd at the Monroe High gym.
The game started with a technical foul against Tift County due to a dunk in the layup line before the game. Kenaurtica George hit both free throws to start the game for Monroe. With a little over two minutes to play in the first quarter and the score tied at seven, Tift County senior shooting guard Jalen Lewis knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Blue Devils a 10-7 advantage.
Tift County’s Tyrie Jackson knocked down a 3-pointer near the end of the first quarter and the Blue Devils had a 14-12 lead.
In the second quarter, Jackson hit two more 3-pointers extending Tift County’s lead to 20-14 with a little over four minutes left in the half. Monroe stayed within striking distance and trailed the Blue Devils 26-22 when Tift County coach Eric Holland called a time out with 1:38 to go.
With under a minute to play, the Tornadoes cut Tift County’s lead to 26-25 when Emeshaun Offord knocked down a 3-pointer.
Monroe took the lead at 28-26 early in the second half when Trentavious Jacskon scored, was fouled and converted the 3-point play. Then the Tornadoes increased their lead to 32-26 before Tift County called time out with 5:40 to go.
With Monroe up 40-34 and 13 seconds left in the third quarter, Offord electrified the crowd with a sensational dibble drive to the basket for a score, and the Tornadoes ended the third quarter up 42-34.
Monroe maintained a 44-39 lead with just under six minutes left in the game before Tift County forward Hayden Mullinex scored on a hook shot, cutting the Tornadoes’ lead to three.
With Monroe up 46-43 and 3:05 to go, play was stopped because of a clock malfunction. Ten seconds were put back on the clock, making it 3:15 to go and Monroe up 48-43.
With under three minutes to play, Monroe guard Keith Hayes was fouled and made both free throws. Micah Johnson answered back for Tift County with a basket of his own, making the score 50-45. Then Tyrie Jackson created a steal and was fouled on a missed layup. Jackson made both free throws, cutting Monroe’s led to 50-47.
Tift County scored two more baskets off turnovers, taking the lead at 51-50 with a little over a minute to go. Then Monroe’s Devonte Young was fouled and he made both free throws giving the Tornadoes a 52-51 advantage.
That lead was short lived, however, as Tift County’s Fred Lloyd stole the ball and was fouled. Lloyd hit both free throws, giving the lead back to the Blue Devils. The Tornadoes had the ball with 38.9 seconds to play before Offord was fouled. Offord made one of two and the score was tied at 53 with 36 seconds to go.
However, on Tift County’s next possession, Micah Johnson was fouled and he made both free throws, putting Tift County back in front 55-53.
With 29.4 seconds to go, Monroe coach Marquis Davis called a time out to set up his offense. However, Napolean Harris was whistled for an illegal screen giving the ball back to the Blue Devils. Tift County’s Preston Horne was fouled with 17.9 seconds to play, but he missed both free throws.
Monroe had a chance to tie the game, but Offord’s off balanced shot was missed and Horne rebounded the ball for the Blue Devils. Horne made both free throws to seal the victory.
“We wanted to win the last two minutes of the ball game,” Holland said.
It was a tough one for Monroe to swallow.
“I thought we played real well,” Monroe coach Marquis Davis said. “There was a period with about two or two and a half minutes to go in the fourth quarter that we committed three turnovers, I believe. That was a crucial point in the game. We were still in the ball game though.
“I thought our guys played hard and defended the home court. We played a really good team tonight. We’ll just let this one go and get ready for Cairo tomorrow.”
MONROE GIRLS 57, TIFT COUNTY 42: In a game in which the refs allowed both teams to play physical, the Monroe Lady Tornadoes showed why they are among the best teams in the state by defeating Class AAAAAA power Tift County.
With the win, the Lady Tornadoes avenge a 41-36 loss to the Lady Blue Devils back on November 21.
Monroe was led in scoring by Key Key Price with 24 points and Toddrianna Isler with 17. The Lady Blue Devils also had two scorers in double figures — Audrey McElhaney led Tift County with 14 points and Vanity Golson chipped in 12 in the losing effort.
“Not good enough,” Tift County coach Julie Connor said of her team’s effort. “Monroe played a great game. They have some very talented players.”
Monroe now improves to 4-2 on the season and travels to Cairo tonight to take on the Syrupmaids, while Tift County (5-1) heads across town to take on Westover.